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The Mother Of All Tender Cases Revisited: Three More Issues

The last article about the decision of the Superior Court of Ontario  in Envoy Relocation Services Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2013 ONSC 2034 considered the impact of that case upon the Contract A  –  Contract B principles of tender law.  There are many more interesting issues which emerge from that case.  This article considers three more issues.

The first issue is:  What Standard of review should be applied by the Court to the procurement authority’s decision? Should that decision be over-ruled if the court considers it to be incorrect; or only if it is unreasonable; or only if it was made in bad faith or fraudulently?

The second and third issue concerns the Court’s entitlement to review the procurement decision in the first place.  Was the Court’s authority excluded by federal legislation?  And was a prior decision in this case on this point res judicata and binding on the court?

The fourth issue related to how the plaintiff’s damages should be awarded.  The Open Windows Bakery decision of the Supreme Court of Canada directs that damages for breach of contract are to be calculated according to the least burdensome way for the defendant to perform the contract. But what does this mean in the context of a tender or procurment? That issue will be addressed in my next article about this very interesting case.

The background

The facts were set out in my last article on this case.  Mr. Justice Annis took 1194 paragraphs to set forth the facts, so this article provides just a brief synopsis. The dispute arose in relation to a 2004 RFP by the Canadian government for a relocation service for personnel employed in the Canadian armed services, government services and RCMP.  An earlier RFP had been undertaken in 2002.

One element in both RFPs was a service called Property Management Services, or PMS.  Under PMS, the winning bidder was required to arrange and pay for various services to the individuals being moved, such as realty services, legal services and similar services. The incumbent provider which had won the 2002 RFP knew that the RFP services were hardly used at all by any of the transferred individuals. It had bid the 2002 RFP showing zero as the ceiling cost for the PMS service, thereby contracting to provide the service free of charge. In fact, it actually charged the few individuals who used the service under the 2002 contract.

Then, in the 2004 RFP, the incumbent provider knew that few individuals used the PMS service.  So it again included zero cost for this service in its bid.  The other bidders were told by the sponsor to include a specified number of projected users of the PMS service, and did so.  By reason of doing so, their bids were about $45 million more than they would otherwise have been if they had bid zero as a ceiling for PMS services.

These facts about the 2002 and 2004 procurements were discovered by the Office of the Auditor General.  One of the other bidders, Envoy Relocation Services Inc., sued the Canadian government and this trial ensued.

The Trial Judge’s decision

As discussed in the prior article, the trial judge found that the Crown breached the express terms of the contract applicable to the invitation to tender, and also breached the implied term that it would conduct the tender fairly.  In addition, the trial judge addressed the following three issues which are of importance to construction and procurement law.

Standard of Review

One of the important issues in tender cases is:  what standard of review should the court apply when considering the sponsor’s evaluation of the tender proposals? Should the sponsor’s decision to accept one tender and reject the others be overturned: if the court believes that the sponsor was incorrect in its assessment; or must the court apply a higher standard and find that the sponsor acted unreasonably before it interferes; or must the court apply an even higher standard and only interfere if the sponsor acted fraudulently, in bad faith, by mistake or unconscionably?

The trial judge appears to have applied a two part test. For those parts of the sponsor’s assessment which were based on its expertise, he concluded that a standard of reasonableness should be applied; for those parts of the assessment where the sponsor’s employees had no expertise or had acted improperly (due to clear error, conflict of interest, or obvious preference for one bidder), a standard of correctness should be applied.  The trial judge rejected the Crown’s submission that he must find fraud, mistake, bad faith or unconscionability before he could review the tender assessments made by the Crown, finding that such a standard was “overly deferential” to the sponsor and not supported by the case law.

These distinctions between the various standards of review are useful.  Often the standard of review may be the decisive factor in whether the court will interfere with the sponsor’s assessment of the bids.  The trial judge’s reasons for using the correctness standard when the conduct of the sponsor’s decision-makers does not deserve respect, but otherwise the standard of reasonableness, provide a nuanced approach to the standard of review.

The Court’s Jurisdiction

The Crown asserted that the court had no jurisdiction to deal with the plaintiff’s claim because the  Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Procurement Inquiry Regulations  had established a statutory code for procurement disputes falling within the jurisdiction of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, and that the present dispute fell within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. The Crown submitted that the statutory code operated to oust the jurisdiction of the Superior Court, such that the action must be dismissed.

The trial judge rejected this submission.  He noted that this submission had been made to the court by way of a motion to dismiss earlier in the action, and that motion had been dismissed.  Accordingly, the trial judge held that the issue was res judicata.  But the trial judge went on to agree with the motion judge’s decision.  He held that there would have to be very clear language in the statute before the court’s jurisdiction was ousted, and there was nothing in the legislation that expressly did so.

The trial judge also expressed some horror that the court’s jurisdiction could be usurped in this kind of case. He said

“The fundamental difference between a court like the Superior Court of justice and the CITT involves the capacity to determine facts. It would frankly be unthinkable for any judicial body, but a trial court to hear a matter such as this one.

 If I may resort to a Proustian sentence to make the point: this matter involves facts extending over several years [and the trial judge continued in one sentence for seventeen lines concluding] …and everything else that goes with a trial in which factual findings are fundamentalto the ultimate decision that teams of lawyers have spent thousands of hours working on.

I cannot imagine more inappropriate circumstances in which to advance an argument that the jurisdiction of the Superior Court should be ousted because Parliament intended that cases of this nature should be resolved before the CITT.

This is not intended to be disrespectful towards the CITT, but it is clearly not a fact-finding quasi-judicial institution. Matters of contract, tort and remedies resulting therefrom are generally fact driven. One cannot replace a trial court with an administrative tribunal, unless the tribunal takes on the general characteristics of the trial court, such as has happened in many respects in labour law. But there is nothing in the constitution and procedures before the CITT that suggests it has either the capacity or the experience to make factual determinations, unless of a fairly rudimentary nature…..

 In matters of procurement, there is an obvious need in some cases for recourse to a judicial institution whose primary responsibility is the finding of facts in the pursuit of justice. I consider this to be a strong policy argument supporting the conclusion that Parliament could not have intended to exclude the Superior Court’s jurisdiction in this area without the clearest words to that effect.”

The private sector may well share the judge’s concern that the review of government procurements exclusively by government appointed tribunals is no way to ensure independent justice. The private sector may well wish to be vigilant to ensure that Parliament and the provincial legislatures do not try to shut off recourse to the courts arising from government procurements.

Res Judicata 

 Res judicata was considered by the trial judge twice in his reasons.

First, he held that the earlier decision of the motions judge, that the role of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) did not oust the jurisdiction of the court, was res judicata on that issue. Nevertheless, he agreed with that decision and arrived at the same conclusion.

Second, the trial judge concluded that the unsuccessful proceedings by Envoy before the CITT were not determinative of Envoy’s rights.  Again, that issue had been raised by the Crown before the motion judge on its earlier motion, and had been dismissed.  That made the earlier judge’s decision res judicata on the issue.

In addition, the trial judge considered this issue on its merits and concluded that the earlier proceedings before the CITT were not definitive for two reasons.

First, the “intervening circumstances” showed that the proceedings before the CITT “bear no relationship to those argued before and ultimately determined by the Court.” Moreover, the trial judge said that he would exercise his discretion to not apply the doctrine of res judicata having regard to the refusal by the CITT to allow any inquiry into the allegations raised by Envoy and the subsequent discovery by the Auditor General of the facts relating to PMS.

The reasoning of the trial judge can be a useful starting point for any litigant facing the issue of res judicata arising from a tender.  The decision could be that of a government tribunal, but it could also be that of the engineer or architect on the project.  If the issue is whether that decision is binding on the parties by reason of res judicata, or whether the court should exercise its discretion to relieve against the application of that doctrine, then reference to the Envoy Relocation Services decision may be useful.

Quantifying Damages: The Open Window Bakery Decision

Time and space do not permit this article to review the trial judge’s consideration of the Open Window Bakery decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to the calculation of the plaintiff’s damages.  The issue may be crucial in tender and procurement law. It will be addressed in the next article.  In all, it will take three articles to fully digest the issues raised in this Mother of All Tender Cases.

See Heintzman and Goldsmith on Canadian Building Contracts (4th ed.), chapter 1, paragraph 1(f)

Envoy Relocation Services Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2013 ONSC 2034

 Construction Law  –  Tenders  –   Res Judicata  –  Standard of Review  –  Jurisdiction of the Court

 Thomas G. Heintzman O.C., Q.C., FCIArb                                                                                                                       May 16, 2013

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